Monday, July 16, 2018

Institute for Aloe Studies does mail order

Have you heard of the Institute for Aloe Studies? High five if you answered yes; I bet you hang out a lot in aloe-related web forums! But don't feel bad if you haven't. The Institute for Aloes Studies isn't a household name yet, although it deserves to be.

The Institute for Aloe Studies (IAS) is the brainchild of John B Miller, an elementary school teacher from Oakland, California who became hooked on aloes when he saw an Aloe sabaea on his first visit to the Ruth Bancroft Garden (RBG) in nearby Walnut Creek 20+ years ago. In the years to follow, John and his brother Jeff, equally enamored with aloes, worked as volunteers at the RBG and built up an impressive aloe collection of their own.

My first order from the Institute for Aloe Studies

Friday, July 13, 2018

Getty Center gardens, finally!

It took me 20 years to visit the Getty Center in Los Angeles for the first time, but through a fortunate combination of circumstances I've now been there twice in the last six months. Not that I'm complaining; if I lived closer, I'd be a regular!

The Getty Center is one of the most visited art museums in the U.S. I'm convinced people come as much for the location as they do for the priceless European art on display. The Getty Center sits all by itself on top of a hill next to the 405 freeway. Visitors park their cars in a 6-story underground parking structure at the base of the hill and take the tram to the museum complex—a ride of less than five minutes. Parking costs $15 ($10 after 3pm), but there is no charge to use the tram or see the museum exhibits.

Volumes have been written and said about the Getty Center, oil billionaire J. Paul Getty, his vast art collection, and of course about the trials and tribulations of his family, including the 1973 kidnapping of his grandson (the topic of the 2017 Ridley Scott movie All the Money in the World). And like virtually everything associated with the Gettys, the Getty Center, one of the two museum complexes run by the Getty Trust, is the stuff of superlatives. Built over the course of eight years at a cost of $733 million (including $115 million for the 750 acres of land), the property was valued at almost $4 billion in 2013 (not including the art).

In addition to its location, architecture, and art, the Getty Center has something else: world-famous gardens. The Central Garden with its three towering steel arbors draped with hot-pink bougainvillea, and the Cactus Garden on top of the South Promontory, are destinations in their own right, as evidenced by steady streams of visitors.

Cactus Garden with an unobstructed view of downtown Los Angeles

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Succulent perfection at the Newport Beach Civic Center Desert Garden

The first time I read about the Newport Beach Civic Center was in this October 2014 post on Piece of Eden. The $140 million complex took three years to complete and opened in April 2013. It houses Newport Beach City Hall and the Central Library and is surrounded by 16 acres of parks and gardens, including the Coastal Sage Scrub Garden, the Torrey Pine Grove and—of particular interest to me—the Desert Garden.

On our recent trip to Southern California to tour university campuses with daughter #2, I had the opportunity to visit the Newport Beach Civic Center on an early morning outing. I found a parking space right at the entrance to the parking lot and only encountered a couple of other people as I was walking around.

A mass planting of Agave attenuata against the north wall of City Hall sets the stage:

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Garden rooms and an ocean view in Mendocino

Every summer I look forward to the Garden Conservancy's Open Days. This year I finally made it to an Open Days event in Mendocino on the North Coast. I met up with fellow bloggers Kathy of GardenBook and Denise of A Growing Obsession so I not only saw two fantastic gardens, I did it in the company of like-minded friends. In addition, I finally got to visit fabled Digging Dog Nursery, located deep in the woods just south of Mendocino—more on that in separate post.

The first garden we toured was a 3-acre spread overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Since it's right next to Russian Gulch State Park, it seems even larger. As you will see in the photos below, it is a spectacular blend of colors, shapes and textures. In fact, there are several distinct gardens coexisting side by side, each one self-contained and able to stand on its own, yet connecting seamlessly to the others.

The first area you see as you approach the house is an expansive heather garden planted with a variety of Erica. The softly undulating forms of the heathers look wind-worn, as if shaped by the harsh winds off the Pacific Ocean. There was great contrast even now; I can only imagine how beautiful the heather garden must be in the fall and winter.

I believe the house you see is on the property, but it's not the main residence. Maybe it's a guest house?

Sunday, July 1, 2018

San Diego just won't stop succing

It's day 3 of our visit to San Diego. The succy trend that started on day 1 and continued on day 2 is showing no signs of letting up. Slowly but surely, it's wearing me down. It won't be long before I throw up my hands in defeat and become a convert. Maybe all this succyness isn't so bad after all!

The campus of San Diego State University is only a tenth of the size of UC San Diego, which we visited yesterday, but it has a much higher succulent ratio. The first sighting we made was in front of this newly refurbished residence hall:

Saturday, June 30, 2018

San Diego still succs

Day 2 in San Diego, and the succy sights simply won't end. Wherever we go, there are spiky plants that want to be boss.

It starts right at our hotel:

Friday, June 29, 2018

San Diego succs

I'm in San Diego for a quick family trip to tour colleges with daughter #2. Once again I'm reminded of how unlikeable this city is. The weather is awful: oppressive gray skies, not a trace of sunshine, just an annoying drizzle that never seems to end. The scenery is dull and drab; in fact, there is nothing to see, nothing to do.

You want proof?

Here's incontrovertible proof that San Diego succs!

Thursday, June 21, 2018

England meets Texas: Jenny Stocker's walled garden (#gbfling2018)

Many of you know Jenny Stocker through her blog Rock Rose and are familiar with her garden in suburban Austin. But seeing photos of a garden is one thing, even if it's hundreds, if not thousands, of photos over a number of years. Visiting it in person is something else entirely. It's a somewhat surreal experience—like a lucid dream where you find yourself in a place that's both new and familiar at the same time. When I finally had the opportunity to tour Jenny's garden during the 2018 Garden Bloggers Fling, I took hundreds of photos myself. I hope that I managed to capture a few angles you haven't seen before.

If you're not familiar with the Stockers, here's a brief intro. Jenny and her husband David are transplants from England who came to the US in 1967. After gardening elsewhere in Austin, they built their dream home in 2000 and started their current garden right after the house was finished. In this post you'll see their house and garden from air as well as some photos of the early days.

Jenny describes her garden like this:
Our idea was to have space in which I could garden deer-free. So the house was built with surrounding walls. We also like to eat outdoors and have our morning coffee or afternoon tea outside, so creating areas for that became our next priority. In winter we needed a sheltered, sunny spot, and in summer a shaded spot. So we have 6 areas we use depending on the time of the year and time of day. 
You'll see all of that in the course of this post. But let's start at the street where the bus dropped us off. The first thing you notice are trees. Lots of them. It's a miniature forest!

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Brian's East Bay front yard transformed into a colorful desert garden

I've seen quite a few front yard conversions in recent years, driven by the historic drought as much as turf replacement rebates from local water districts and the State of California. But few conversions have been as complete and as successful as what my friend Brian has achieved at this home in Concord.

Brian has gone from the quintessential suburban front yard—a rarely used expanse of front lawn and some shrubbery along the sidewalk and driveway—to a garden bursting with beauty and life: All the pollinators for whom the previous incarnation was a wasteland now have a smorgasbord that is as never-ending as the California sun. In addition, Brian's water consumption has dropped to a fraction of what it had been before. I don't think you could do much better than that.

Here's a before and after:


Now let's take a closer look.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Hot Color, Dry Garden

Dry garden: Many of us have that. Hot color: That's something everybody needs.

Garden writer, landscape designer and TV host Nan Sterman clearly thought so, too. Her new book Hot Color, Dry Garden (Timber Press 2018) puts an end, once and for all, to the misconception that water-wise gardens are a dull wasteland.


In fact, she busts three popular myths right out of the gate: that "low-water landscapes are brown, lifeless, and colorless," that "low-water gardens are scrubby and scrappy rather than lush and plant-filled," and that "low-water gardens are rocks and desert."